The election results are in and there were several big races decided last Thursday. For you political junkies, we’ll take a deep dive into the results.
Bill Hagerty is the Republican nominee for the United States Senate seat being vacated by Lamar Alexander. Hagerty began the race as the overwhelming favorite and the race seemed to have tightened toward the end as Team Hagerty unleashed a barrage of attack ads against challenger Dr. Manny Sethi. Hagerty was also the choice of most of the GOP establishment in Tennessee; Senator Alexander and Marsha Blackburn were for Hagerty, as was former governor Bill Haslam. In spite of that, Manny Sethi managed to narrowly carry Knox County as Hagerty easily carried most of the rest of Tennessee.
Diana Harshbarger might well have been the biggest surprise of the night. For the last fifty years, whenever a congressman in the First Congressional District retires, everybody and his brother jumps into the Republican primary. This year was no exception. A host of candidates entered the GOP primary and Harshbarger emerged on top of the pile. I don’t claim to know a lot about politics in the First District, but everything I heard, as well as what most of my friends and acquaintances heard, indicated State Senator Rusty Crowe would win the primary. Crowe has been in the Tennessee State Senate since 1990 and has been enduringly and overwhelmingly popular inside his district. Still, it wasn’t enough. Crowe and State Representative Timothy Hill were virtually tied for second place. As we went to press, the latest figures had Timothy Hill with 16.7% of the ballots cast, while Rusty Crowe had 16.1%. Hill tallied 15,724 votes with Crowe close behind with 15,170. Harshbarger won with 19.2% of the vote and 18,069 votes. Think of that folks, the Republican nominee for Congress selected by less than 20% of the electorate participating in the primary. Harshbarger carried Sevier, Sullivan, Hawkins, Hamblen, and Jefferson counties. Rusty Crowe carried Carter, Unicoi, and Hancock counties. Timothy Hill only carried a single county while finishing second place in the balloting; Hill won Johnson County. Hill’s district in the State House comprised parts of Sullivan, Johnson and Carter counties, but he only managed to carry Johnson. Hill has served in the Tennessee General Assembly since winning election in 2012. Hill’s brother, Matthew, has also served in the state house for eighteen years, representing Washington County. Matthew Hill was defeated in his reelection bid in a landslide. Hill was beaten by newcomer Rebecca Alexander in the primary, winning less than 37% of the vote. Another upper East Tennessee legislator lost his primary bid; Micah Van Huss lost to home builder Tim Hicks. Two other state legislators lost their primaries last week, including one here in Knox County. State Representative Rick Tillis, a freshman legislator and brother of U. S. senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, was trailing by about 600 votes in his district. The fourth legislator to lose in his own primary was Knoxville’s Rick Staples.
Staples had succeeded veteran legislator Joe Armstrong, who was forced from office after a scrape with tax fraud. Rick Staples had run a close, but eventually unsuccessful race for the Knoxville City Council, before being named as the Democratic nominee in the most Democratic House district in Knox County. Staples won reelection without much trouble two years ago, but this year faced mounting problems with constant publicity about his personal and campaign finances. Former County Commissioner Sam McKenzie entered the race and had long been affiliated with the political machine operated by Armstrong and former school board member Sam Anderson. McKenzie’s wife Gwen is a member of the Knoxville City Council and is currently vice mayor. Throughout the campaign, McKenzie clearly had difficulties in adjusting to the reality of running a modern campaign. McKenzie bought ads on Armstrong’s radio station and ran commercials on TV. The third entrant in the Democratic primary was newcomer Matthew Park, who proceeded to occupy the far left of the spectrum in the race. Park’s campaign was surging as Election Day arrived and the race was a nail-biter. In the end, McKenzie appears to be the winner by 23 votes. Park, who turned 31 the week of the election, went door-to-door and pumped his campaign through social media as well as digitally. Of the three candidates, Park seemed to be the candidate with the best outreach to voters and it showed; he quite early beat an eight-year veteran of the Knox County Commission and an incumbent state representative.
The 15th District is changing; as it stands currently, the district is 60% white and 40% black; just how long more upscale communities will tolerate politicians who seem more interested in collecting a check than servicing constituents remains to be seen. If he is the winner, Sam McKenzie’s biggest hurdle in holding the seat is probably redistricting. There is nothing to prevent the Republican majority in Nashville from putting McKenzie in the same district with Gloria Johnson. Say what you will about Johnson, but she is extremely well-organized, is the source of much of the growing Democratic vote surrounding her district and she would not only eat Sam McKenzie’s lunch, but run over him afterward.
Speaking of Johnson, Elaine Davis was unchallenged for the GOP nomination to face off against the on-again, off-again lawmaker in the general election.
Another state House race that was closely watched locally was that to succeed veteran lawmaker Bill Dunn. Patti Bounds, a member of the Knox County Board of Education, was nudged into the race before Dunn made his retirement announcement. There were those who actually believed Bounds’ declaration of candidacy bluffed Bill Dunn out of the race. Smart money never thought for a second Patti Bounds was going to beat Bill Dunn.
Bounds, twice elected to the board of education, had never faced an opponent, serious or otherwise, so just how popular she was had never been determined In the end, Bounds turned out to be a paper tiger, losing decisively to County Commissioner Michele Carringer. Bounds was another one of those folks tied to education, she is a retired kindergarten teacher, who seemed to believe teachers were going to carry her to victory. Amber Rountree thought the same thing two years ago and was defeated in her reelection bid. Many of the people Bounds expected to be grateful to her weren’t even voting for her inside the GOP primary. The endorsements carried on Bounds’ website all seemed to be either teachers or retired administrators. It’s almost amusing some of those supporting Patti Bounds are grousing her loss was due largely to Bill Dunn and groups who support school choice and vouchers. It was no surprise to anybody with ears and eyes that Bill Dunn was the foremost supporter of school choice and vouchers in the Tennessee General Assembly. It couldn’t especially be a shock to anyone with a functioning brain that Bill Dunn’s choice of a successor wouldn’t be Patti Bounds.
Carringer will go on to face Democrat Elizabeth Rowland in the general election.
Bill Dunn isn’t the only state representative in Knox County retiring this year and there was a heated primary between realtor Gina Oster and former mayoral candidate Eddie Mannis for the Republican nomination to succeed Martin Daniel. At press time it looked as though Mannis would win the election by less than 100 votes.
City Councilwoman Seema Singh is sponsoring a resolution condemning or otherwise opposing TVA outsourcing. Now, the city council has no authority over TVA, not can the Council set any kind of policy. I reckon the city council can pass all the meaningless resolutions with no force of law urging Congress to do this, that or the thing other they wish, Maybe they will actually convince some people it makes a difference. I wonder if Seema watches the news? Seema seems…well, a little late, if not out of touch. Girl, Donald Trump beat you to it. President Trump signed an Executive Order prohibiting TVA outsourcing, etc.
Congratulations to Judge Tim Irwin
Tim Irwin, Judge of Knox County’s Juvenile Court, not only stands head and shoulders above most other judges, but has been selected as the incoming president of Tennessee’s Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. Irwin put himself through law school while playing professional football, but his real calling is administering justice and helping kids. A devoted supporter of the Boys & Girls Club, Irwin is firm, but always fair. The judge’s exterior may be gruff, but there is no doubt he truly cares about children and what’s best for families. The Tennessee Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges could not have selected a better president for the next two years.